Pick your pleasure

The high in Oklahoma has been right around 70 degrees! I’ve walked my dogs two days in a row for longer than 10 minutes! Meryl Streep on Fresh Air! Happy weekend, indeed.

What is it about Meryl Streep’s voice that makes it so…I don’t know, luscious? I’ve been thinking about this and here’s what I’ve come up with: Her voice brings to mind feelings of swirling a spoon into a carton of ice cream that’s been softening on the kitchen counter, taking a big, silky bite, then, ice cream in mouth, carrying on conversation with your dear friend at the table. Bless you, Meryl, for making speech a sensory pleasure. May we all learn, by your example, how to bring more art and pleashaaaah into our daily speak.

Speaking of pleasure, I pulled myself together enough this week to cook something other than sautéed greens or roasted vegetables for dinner. I should add, for the sake of the vegetables and greens, that they are perfectly satisfying enough for an-easy-to-please girl like me. But, every now and again, and increasingly so as the weather turns chilly, I like to pass my evening sauntering around my little kitchen, getting lost in the smells and sounds and sights of Home Cooking. And last Wednesday, I did that with a pound of lamb, onions, carrots, and some aromatic spices.

Carrot Confetti

I first made the lamb patties that bring me here today for a column I wrote for Edible OKC. I don’t have much to say about it right now, because I’m sitting in Room 120 of Community Hospital, keeping my Mimi company as she recovers from back surgery, and, as such, am a bit distracted. But what I can tell you is that this is a recipe that pleases my palate in exactly the right way. I hope you’ll take my word for it and give it a try.

With a little prep beforehand, this recipe doesn’t require a ton of fussing, which is especially nice if you, like me, get easily caught up in the smells of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and fennel, while A Tribe Called Quest’s Electric Relaxation beats in the background. As a fine dice, the onions and carrots look ever so slightly like orange-and-white confetti, so if you, like me, have a camera nearby, you might even be able to grab it and practice taking photos in the last light of the day.

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We ate the patties with injera bread — an East-African, spongy, sourdough-risen flatbread, also known as Jamie’s most favorite thing to eat and make ever — and lightly cooked greens. You could serve them with a mint yogurt sauce, but, truth be told, I don’t find it necessary. I’m including a recipe for such a sauce, though, so you can pick your pleasure.

I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of the finished product for you. I’ve never found myself much inspired by a hunk of meat — not in it’s looks, anyway. The inspiration here comes with taste.

Take care, folks.

Moroccan Lamb Burgers with Minty Lemon Yogurt Sauce
From Flavors of Health Cookbook

This recipe comes from a cookbook I received as part of my studies in holistic nutrition. While Mr. Bauman’s lectures are hardly flavorful, the recipes in this book more than make up for that. I know that in many cases flavor is not synonymous with health. But this cookbook is proof that the two elements can coexist very well.

For the patties:

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 small carrot, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dried currents — we’ve also used raisins and dried tart cherries
  • 1 large egg, lightly whisked
  • 3 Tbsp. butter (or coconut oil, if you prefer it)

For the yogurt sauce:

  • 1 pint greek-style plain, whole-milk yogurt
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn into small pieces
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

A quick word about the sauce: The recipe will give you about 2 cups, so you’ll likely have some left over. All you need to do to make the sauce is mix the ingredients together in a medium bowl, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Place the lamb in a large bowl and set aside. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Stir in the onions and a pinch of sea salt, and sauté until soft and opaque, about 5 minutes.

Add the carrots and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 or 2 minutes. Reduce the heat, then sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and turmeric. Stir so that the spices coat the vegetables — it should smell very aromatic — and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour the vegetable sauté over the lamb and stir. Add the salt and pepper, then fold in the currants and egg, making sure everything is thoroughly combined.

Form the meat into 3-inch patties (you can make them bigger, if you want) and place on a baking tray. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat and add a few spoonfuls of butter. As the oil melts, swirl the pan around to coat the bottom. The pan should be adequately hot before you begin cooking the patties. You can test if the pan is ready by putting a small drop of meat on the pan. If it sizzles, the pan is good to go; but, if it spits and sizzles too aggressively, the oil is likely too hot, and your patties will burn before they are cooked through. If this is the case, remove the pan from the heat for a few minutes before cooking.

Place the burger patties 2 inches apart and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the burger sears and releases easily from the pan with a spatula. Flip the burger and cook the other side. If you have a thermometer, you want the internal temperature to be 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Transfer the patties to a paper-towel-lined plate, and repeat the cooking process until all burgers are cooked.

These patties go well on a bun (or any bread that so pleases you) topped with fresh lettuce. You can also top them with the yogurt sauce. Any leftover patties store well in the refrigerator, and taste equally delicious the second day.

I had plans

I had plans to come here today to talk about chocolate cake. Nigel Slater’s chocolate cake, to be exact, made with good butter and sweet, steamed beets. I was also going to tell you about how I’ve grown suspicious of desserts that include things like beets or avocados or sweet potatoes, because the descriptions of said recipes usually include words like “guilt-free” and “safe,” and these are words and ways of thinking that I don’t like hearing or using when it comes to food. However, when David Leibovitz does it because Nigel Slater did it, my suspicions soften and turn trusting, and I make a plan to make a cake.

Ahhh, but then my plan to make the cake three(!) Mondays ago, turned into another plan to make the cake three Tuesdays ago, and, well, seeing how three-plus weeks have passed since making said plan, you know how that turned out. It’s not that I don’t want to make Nigel’s cake. I want to make most things Nigel writes about, and have not been disappointed in my endeavors. No, it’s more true that I haven’t found the right opportunity to bake, and putting unnecessary pressure on myself is bad for me. So instead I resort to splitting one or two of the French chocolates our sweet customer, Myelene, brought back for us from Paris, and, well, that’s not terrible. So the chocolate cake gets put on hold until the next day (and then the next week), and I spend the evening doing whatever pleases me, which is usually reading or watching Six Feet Under or lingering around the dinner table with Jamie or watching movies with my brothers, like the old days.

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Right now, I want to eat and make foods that require as little fuss as possible. And considering the story I just told you about the cake, you’d be right in assuming that I don’t really want to do a whole lot of making. But, there are only so many times we can eat from our food establishment’s menu before things become a little uninspiring and boring.

So a few dinners ago, while taking stock of available ingredients on hand for what would be our dinner, I set out to eat something not boring. Thirty minutes later, I had what I needed for a sort-of(?) Niçoise salad. I don’t remember when I first learned of a Niçoise salad. But seeing that, as it currently stands, my cooking ideas come from only a small handful of cooks who write, I didn’t have to look far to find a direction for what I had to work with, which was: sardines, capers, eggs, mixed farm greens, red onion, and black olives.

In my search for wisdom from some of my tried-and-trues, I came across a recipe of Molly’s for deviled eggs, which called for frying capers, and oh yes, that sounds great, I’ll do that, but, ohhh shoot!, I don’t have any tomatoes or green beans, Nigel, but, eh, I’ll use them next time. While the eggs were hardening, I pan-fried the sardines until the skin was brown and crispy, and the fat was aggressively popping out of the pan at me. Once those were out of the pan, I threw in the capers — they were much less dramatic I should add — and let them sizzle around until they popped open.

Next, I peeled the eggs, which might have been less frustrating if they were cooler, and after that I whisked together a quick vinaigrette that came from Nigel’s nicoise recipe, only I used apple cider vinegar instead of red-wine vinegar because it’s all I had. And when we sat down to eat this salad, we were very pleased with it’s simplicity and it’s elegance. It was a very good salad that required very little of me, which means it was a very, very good salad by this home’s definition.

I was going to take a picture of our plates, but they weren’t much to look at, and I highly doubt they would’ve motivated you to run to the kitchen to make your own. But, then again, I’ve grown a little suspicious of recipes that come with perfectly staged images — if I actually make the recipe, I usually end up disappointed in the outcome. It’s usually the plain, understated images that get my attention and favor. Oh look! I shared a suspicion with you after all. We’ve come full circle.

A Sort-of Niçosie Salad

  • 2 cans sardines
  • 3-4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 2 tablespoon capers
  • a few handfuls of leafy greens
  • black olives
  • red onion
  • tomatoes, if you have them

For the dressing:

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar (apple-cider vinegar works fine, too)
  • 1/2-1 tbsp Dijon mustard (if you like the kick of mustard, add 1 tbsp)
  • 2 small cloves of garlic — crushed and finely chopped
  • sea salt

Start by hard-boiling the eggs. Put them in a single layer in a large pot. Cover the eggs with cold water by an inch or so, then place the pot over medium-high heat. Let it come to a boil, then immediately cover the pot and remove it from the heat. Let the eggs sit for 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Next, pan-fry your sardines. I usually use one of two brands of sardines: Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil; or Crown Prince Natural Wild Caught Brisling Sardines, also in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Split the fish and remove any bones. Put about half of the olive oil from one can of sardines into a skillet and warm it over medium heat. When it’s warm and glides easily around the pan, add the sardines. If you have a lid or screen to put over the skillet, you might have it near by — the sardines pop aggressively with heat. Sear each side of the sardines for 2-3 minutes. Remove to a paper towel.

Wipe out your skillet and add a splash of olive oil. (I used fresh olive oil to fry the capers, but don’t see why you couldn’t use the oil from the sardines?) Let it warm over medium-high heat. When it slides easily around the pan, add the capers — you want them to sizzle. Fry, shaking the capers around a few times, until they split open. This will only take a couple of minutes, and you’ll want to watch them so that they don’t brown. Once they’re ready, drain them on to a paper towel.

Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar and mustard together with the garlic and a three-finger pinch of sea salt. Then, whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust to your tastes.

By this point, the eggs should be sufficiently cool enough to peel. So peel them then cut them in half, whichever direction you please — horizontally or vertically.

Fill a couple of bowls with a heaping handful of greens, then add your toppings — sardines, eggs, olives, etc. Toss gently with the vinaigrette and serve.